Island Books: The Story Continues


Jordan Balousek

A look inside Mercer Island’s most loved bookstore.

Jordan Balousek, Staff Writer

Island Books, a downtown Mercer Island mainstay that recently celebrated its 48th anniversary, serves as a cornerstone for members of the Mercer Island community. The bookstore is beloved by residents— many of whom have rushed there to buy last-minute gifts, to hide out from the rain, or to find a book for themselves.

“[It’s] a fortunate thing to be a bookstore on Mercer Island as we have a pretty wonderful community that supports us and loves to read, [and we’re] fortunate to be [a bookstore] that serves Bellevue, Issaquah, Seattle and Mercer Island,” owner Laurie Raisys said.

The bookstore also attempts to give back to the community as much as possible. According to Raisys, this includes hosting community events, holding both book fairs and author events and being a sponsor and offering help with limited-time community events such as Illuminate Mercer Island, or Mercer Days. Island Books also tries to assist with general concerns and questions from residents.

“I sometimes think the bookstore is kind of a general store of some sorts, cause we get calls all the time, at least once a week, [with] random questions that you would get if you were a general store in any small town. [Especially] for the elderly population, we try to be as accommodating and as kind as we can,” Raisys said.

Island Books’ efforts to make the community feel as comfortable and cared for as possible are not one-sided. Customers also do their best to make sure the store feels their love and appreciation.

“The other day I had a customer who I chat with all the time [come back] with her copy of a book that she bought at the store that we had been talking about [for me] to borrow, so that my daughter and I could read it as a read aloud, and we probably will,” employee Lillian Welch said. As a six-year employee who primarily focuses on children’s book and toy buying, Welch is often recognized at the store by children and teenage patrons.

Employee Cindy Corujo has also been deeply touched by the actions of the community throughout her 27-year career at Island Books. 

“If you can find something that you love doing, and you find a place there, and friends– and you feel like it’s good work, like you’re not doing anything that hurts anybody, all you’re doing is being helpful, ” Corujo said, trailing off through tears. “I’m proud of the work that I do, I’m proud of the part I’ve played in keeping the bookstore going, it feels like it’s been my life’s work, [and] I love the place.”

The employees at Island Books work hard to foster a safe and inclusive environment for all shoppers.

“I think one of the ways [I try to make all community members feel comfortable] is just to be so hardcore with trying to be inclusive,” Welch said. “[With that] I absolutely mean [purchasing books with] characters of color in the books.”

Employees at the bookstore also put in the work to build genuine relationships with their customers.

“[We’ve] watched [many patrons] go through pregnancies, many unfortunately that have passed away,” Raisys said. “[There] are some that if they don’t come in a certain amount of time we get nervous and I give them a call, because I’m like, ‘I haven’t seen you in two months, and I’m really nervous that you’re not okay.’”

Ultimately, the bookstore is a place that touches the hearts of many patrons.

“The bookstore’s a place for everyone, you know, it’s for families, it’s for kids- we have an amazing kids department, there are many many kids who grew up at Island Books, in the house, who come back to Island Books with their own kids, and that’s just- it’s incredible,” Raisys said.

“I mean, people are always thankful that we’re here,” Welch said. “Then I always say, ‘the reason we’re here is because you’re shopping here.’”